What A Difference A Decade Makes on White House Scandals

March 25th, 2007 2:56 PM

One of the nice things about having a television and newsletter archive at MRC is being able to bring up the old newscasts and recall how very different the tone and approach of the news was when a Democrat was in the White House. The U.S. Attorney-firing scandal is a strong example of how the network news can on one hand, sell a scandal as incredibly damaging for a political party it does not support, but downplays scandal as damaging to democracy and the people when it affects the political party it favors. Our latest Media Reality Check reminds readers of how different the news sounded ten years ago, when a Republican Congress investigated illegal foreign donations, mostly to national Democratic Party accounts. Take NBC:

NBC theorized that the media were too Clinton-scandal obsessed in 1997. On June 17, 1997, Today co-host Katie Couric asked reporter Bob Woodward: “But are members of the media, do you think, Bob, too scandal-obsessed, looking for something at every corner?”

On August 1, even as the Senate moved to subpoena the White House, co-host Matt Lauer professed: “But there aren't any major storm clouds on the horizon for Bill Clinton, other than maybe Medicare reform.” Newsweek's Jonathan Alter replied: “Yeah, but of course there are these possible scandals, but when the economy is doing well, the public really doesn't seem to care much about anything else.”

On October 8, Today co-host Katie Couric framed the hearings for Sen. Arlen Specter: “Perhaps this is an intentional effort to embarrass the Democratic Party?” On the November 7 Today, NBC's Lisa Myers pressed Senator Fred Thompson: “Your hearings clearly reinforced the public's already low opinion of politicians and politics. Beyond that, what did it accomplish?”

It's a little humorous to recall that the liberal media forecasted no "major storm clouds" for Bill Clinton just a few months before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke wide open. In the Clinton years, liberal media critics (including those given hours on PBS to unspool their theories) indicted the media for producing "scandal and conflict over substance." But when the Republicans are in power, scandal is the substance that matters most. In most cases, no matter who's in power, scandal is a substantive story. But it can definitely be overblown (or undercooked) depending on who's manufacturing the "news."